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Emancipation of the Spirit

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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“[Pharaoh] harnessed his chariot, and took his people with him. He took six hundred select chariots and all the chariots of Egypt, with officers over them all.”
“And the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold! the Egyptians were advancing after them. They were very frightened, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert? What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt?’” (Exodus 14:6,7,10,11)


We can only imagine the state of the Egyptian army which pursued the Jews through the desert.  Physically, these were soldiers who were recovering from ten catastrophic plagues. They were near starvation because practically their entire food supply had been destroyed by the plagues of pestilence, hail, and locusts. Their numbers were certainly decimated by the death of all the first born; and we can assume that the dead included many high ranking army officers, a situation which wreaked havoc on the military chain of command vital to smooth warfare operation. Most importantly, their morale couldn’t have been any lower. Virtually all of them were mourning the death of friends and relatives who had expired in the plague of the first born less than a week earlier. And they couldn’t have been too eager to battle an enemy which obviously had super-natural powers at its disposal. 

The Israelites upon seeing the bedraggled Egyptian army, with their 600 first-rate chariots, they panicked! Why the panic? Go crush them!
The Israelites, on the other hand, were fresh – actual slavery having stopped nearly one year earlier, as soon as the first plague struck Egypt – and full of confidence: “and the children of Israel were marching out triumphantly.” They were well armed, and their numbers included 600,000 battle-worthy men. Yet incredibly, upon seeing the bedraggled Egyptian army, with their 600 first-rate chariots, and an assortment of low-grade chariots, they panicked!

Why the panic? Go crush them!

The Ibn Ezra (12th century Spanish scholar and Biblical commentator) answers this question with remarkable insight: “The Egyptians were masters over the Israelites, and this generation which departed Egypt was trained from its youth to tolerate the yoke of Egypt... Its soul was downtrodden, and how will they be able to wage battle against their masters? And the Israelites were meek, and unlearned in [the art of] battle ... And G-d alone does great [wonders], and He establishes schemes. He orchestrated that all the [Israelite] males who left Egypt should die, for they had no strength to battle the Canaanites, until a new generation arose, a generation which never saw exile, and they had a proud spirit.”


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"Emancipation of spirit" article

Posted by: Snow, OH on Jan 19, 2006

I loved it! It was great to get a feel of the numbers in the Egyptian and Israeli Armies, and to get a feel of what was on the minds of the Israeli's and Egyptians. For example: The Egyptians mourning the loss of the first born, and the Israeli's having the mind-set of the Egyptians as still being their slave masters. Incredible insight! Thank you!

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